My Theatre

11 April 2017

Nominee Interview Series: Lauren Horejda

By // Theatre (Toronto)

Before we announce the winners of the 2016 MyTheatre Awards, we’re proud to present our annual Nominee Interview Series.

Lauren Horejda is one of the only artists in Canada I have yet to see give a bad performance. I’ve yet to see her even give a mediocre performance or a simply fine one. Every time I’ve seen her on stage, she’s delivered something intense and indelible. Never more so than in Desiderata Theatre Co’s production of Changeling: A Grand Guignol for Murderous Times, a semi-contemporary adaptation of a Jacobean classic wherein Lauren played the complex and infuriating Beatrice-Joanna earning her MyTheatre Award nomination for Outstanding Actress (she was previously nominated for Supporting Actress in Unit 102 Actor’s Company’s 2015 production of Hamlet).

Catch us up on what you’ve been doing since the 2015 Nominee Interview Series, which was just last year.
Since then, I’ve switched agents and I’m a lot busier, which is great. I had a recurring role on The Handmaid’s Tale, which is coming out in April, which is really cool. It’s one of my favourite novels, I read it when I was like 20 years old, and loved it. I got a chance to do the Unit 102 production of Old Times. I’ve been taking a break from theatre a little bit lately, just trying to recalibrate a little bit – like really rushing after the film and TV thing. But I’m always gonna love theatre. It’s my first love. And I’ve got some things that I’m waiting to hear back from, and if they come as a yes, will really change things, but who knows in this business what’s going to happen. I’ve also tapped back into a visual artist, by hobby, and I just found out last week that I got accepted to my very first professional art exhibition. I do charcoal sketches, I’m really big into portraiture. It hasn’t really sunk in that it’s real, but I’m super excited for that. It happens in April, in the East End in Leslieville, this gigantic VAM exhibition for new and emerging artists, and established artists, so I’m really excited about that. I don’t really know where that’s going to take me. So that’s what I’ve been working on lately.

What attracted you to the role of Beatrice-Joanna?
I did a lot of work around Jacobean theatre, and classical theatre. And I’ve always loved how dirty those plays can be, where it’s like you really set up the heroes as being heroes and everything just goes so fucking horribly wrong for them. With this particular one Harry [Thomas, the director] approached me and went “I really want you for this part, and I think you’ll be fantastic,” and I think there was a point where I got really scared and went “I don’t know” and he went “Nope! This is you, this is happening.” I’ve loved Beatrice-Joanna – there’s a particular monologue she has when she’s going through and piecing together stuff that’s been written and rewritten and rewritten that I’ve always just loved. And she’s a great, incredibly flawed character who’s constantly thinking she’s two steps ahead of everybody, but in fact isn’t. I like that kind of stuff where it just all falls apart around them and they have no idea. I find that very interesting.

photo by John Gundy

How did Julian Munds’ adaptation reframe her role in the story?
Well, it definitely reframed the ending. Going from her willingly committing suicide to it happening around her, and- spoiler alert – her dad killing her at the end, which I really liked the relationship that he really expanded on with that. I think he gave her a lot more agency. Then again, she does have a lot of agency in the original, so he actually changed her text the least out of all the characters, so she was the most intact out of all of them. But the ending for her was completely different with what happened.

Do you feel that she was more the centre of the piece than she was in the original?
I don’t think so. I think he fleshed out a lot of the other characters around her. A lot of the guys got a lot more going on for them. I think what he did do was put a really tight, more focused spotlight on her and DeFlores. I think that really popped in his interpretation compared to the original, where it’s a little more DeFlores than Beatrice. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve read the original one, so now I’m trying to draw these parallels, but I do remember those popping out from the beginning that was really “zzzzz” on the two of them. Which I thought worked really well when it expanded back out with all these other characters.

Speaking of DeFlores, Prince Amponsah is also nominated for his role. Tell us a little bit about working with him.
Prince is a sweetheart. Prince is an incredibly giving, selfless actor. Prince was very great with me needing things to build up and take their time. I like being surprised and I don’t like to make decisions right away, because I find that can box you in later, so I like to leave things open. And he was really wonderful with that. I’ve worked with a lot of actors who are like “you do this, and I do this, and you do that, and then I’ll do that”. And Prince is just the complete antithesis of anything you can think of with that. So gracious and so lovely, and so open to anything and just so fucking there when you want. You can’t ask for a better scene partner to pin you against the wall than Prince. He’s just fantastic. I love Prince.

There are a lot of ways to read Beatrice. In terms of specifically her villainy and her victimhood and how those two things exist simultaneous, what’s your view of the character and her culpability or redeemability?
It’s a good question. It’s one that I struggled with a lot, working on the piece, and it was a very male-centric production, apart from Claire [Hill] and Julia [Matias], who were doing costumes, but weren’t in the room for rehearsals or anything- they had a lot of other stuff going on. It is really harsh, what happens to [Beatrice]. And, I mean, we’re living in a patriarchal society even now, and God only knows when that’s actually going to change, if ever. I had a conversation with my mother when she was in town where it was like, “I don’t think we’re going to see it”. I know she’s not going to see it in her lifetime. I don’t know if I will, or if you will. It’s so deeply ingrained. And it was rough during the process, to have all these questions and frustrations as a woman, and be surrounded by all these men going “no, don’t worry about it, it’s fine”. I really fought hard for what I wanted and what I saw, and it was a taxing process to be asked to go through that again and again. Especially – the ending was rough. And some people wondered why it was so rough. I have no comment on that.

But I think the reason why she’s written to do the dastardly thing has a little bit to do with just what the flavour was at the time by what Jacobean plays were. In the original, there’s the servant, who doesn’t go through having the affair, and doesn’t have sex, and keeps her virginity, and oh, how wonderful, and she still gets killed anyway. So there had to be a punishment for Beatrice-Joanna to try and take her sexuality in her own hand for everyone sitting there watching the theatres next to their wives. You can’t put that kind of a seed in a woman’s brain because God forbid, if they choose anything for pleasure, there has to be those consequences, otherwise women might make their own fucking decisions, and what would that look like? So I think that’s why she’s punished so horribly, and why they set it up like that. I do like what Julian did, that it’s a little bit – in the original, she’s just kind of like “I’ve dishonoured you so horribly, and now I’ll kill myself”. Which can be seen one way. It definitely was a harsher approach with this one, but I think it worked really well theatrically, and having the Brechtian elements to it, as well, and being able to have Tallan [Byram] as the narrator kind of tie everything up at the end was quite lovely. But it was rough. I don’t know if I’m answering your question very well but it was hard. It was fucked up. 

Do you think that the intensity of that final scene refused to let the audience overlook what happens to her? Maybe if it was less intense, and less harsh, we wouldn’t have felt it as strongly, and it wouldn’t have had as much of a “that’s horrible” reaction?
Potentially. But stuff like that happens all the time. You can walk out of this apartment right now and someone from a car window can call you a whore, and that’s going to affect you. That kind of judgment that comes from the male gaze is every day for you and I, every woman ever. I think what was potentially the hardest for people was seeing it between her and her father. There’s a special place for my dad in my heart, and daddies’ little girls, and I think that part of it was just the last twist of the screw. I think men might have found it very hard to watch because they don’t quite understand it the same way that we do. Talk to a lot of my friends – they’ll say “it can’t be that bad”. It is. I think the relentless pace of it, as well, which was really nice in what was written- it was written to just not give [the audience] a break. It was written in to be a steam locomotive that just did not stop, and went right through, so definitely I think that you’re right on the money with that.

The adaptation setting was fairly modern with only small shifts to what actually happens in the story? What do you think that says about the pace of evolution in terms of the patriarchal themes written 400 years ago playing as contemporary?
That it’s a snail’s pace. I think Julian was very smart writing in as much humour as he did, because there’s nothing that catches people off-balance more than making someone laugh, and then stabbing them in the side. Which was always something that I quite loved with those interstitials that in one second can have a little bit of levity to something, and then the next moment it’s like “okay, well, now I’ve got to switch places with my maid, and she’s going to have sex with the guy that I love, because I’m in this horrible fucking mess”.

I think it’s moving really slow, but I think the power is in our hands to take responsibility for how we want to be viewed. I think about that a lot with the roles I take- some of the things that come down the pipeline, where they want you to have nudity, or they want this, or they’re going to expose you in such and such a way… it’s difficult. You have to really be in control of how you want yourself to be seen, because that can really dictate what happens for you.

I’m at a bit of a low point with the whole women’s revolution right now, because it feels like we’re really knocking on an impenetrable glass ceiling – it’s plexiglass, it’s not going to shatter – and in terms of what we can do to change that… acknowledge that we’re on the same team. There’s such inherent rivalry built up between women that’s also really ingrained. Coming back from when this play would have been written, and beyond – the competition aspect that women see themselves as competition for the attentions of men, that’s fucked up, and that’s still very much part of our world right now. I don’t want to sound silly and say “be the change that you want to see in your world” but that’s what’s rattling around in my head right now. We all have a part to play, and we all have something important. And if someone makes a joke or says something about your appearance or – God forbid, ladies, if a man cheats on you, get mad at him and not the girl he cheated on you with. Come on.

In order to portray the abuse of women in this piece, you had to endure a lot as a performer- you were thrown around, covered in blood and dirt; it must have been taxing despite being “make believe”- do you feel that the impact that that kind of storytelling has on an audience is worth the toll it takes on female artists?
That’s a really good question. I think that it’s having to play the line of making it smart, because if you just shock people or keep knocking on the door, wanting the conversation to happen, it just makes the ears turn deaf. It’s too hard on the heart. It’d be too hard for me if you were like “do you know what’s going to change this? Another three plays that are going to be just as taxing for you but are going to help with the conversation.” That would be a lot to take on.

But then there’s the other side of the coin, I think it’d be great to see – as opposed to the girls always being “let’s do something that showcases us”- really having the guys get interested a little bit, and not be so threatened. I don’t mean to make it sound like I’m harping on them, but God, how feminine is that, that I’m apologizing for harping on them?! Maybe it’s a question of, maybe we have to look to history – what have we been doing so far? Maybe we’ve been playing it a little easy, putting out one or two think pieces a day and then taking it easy on everything. What happens if we change the conversation and just hit it and hit it and hit it and hit it? Maybe we need to not be all so PC, maybe we do need to scream at each other for a while out of frustration. Bring some debate back, say some things that nobody really wants to hear, let’s stop tiptoeing around it and really fucking talk about it.

Put out what we want to see. Put out something that challenges the norm, that’s subversive. I think there might be something more to teaching people, or showing them another alternative rather than potentially just saying a message they’ve already heard before, and didn’t listen to the first time. So why’s it going to crack through on the 5th time or the 10th time? Maybe it’d be a lot more powerful to have the visual of “oh my God, I would have never thought of that in my life! A woman doing that, what the hell?” Or, you know, something like that – “a man accepting this, what?!”

It’s tricky, especially with theatre when you’re doing established plays that are in the public domain – Shakespeare, Jacobean plays – we’re dealing with things that were written hundreds of years ago. How do we break the cycle of how women are portrayed if we’re not all just creating new work all the time?
Well, I’ve been wondering this as well, and I’d love your opinion. There is the traditional definitions of what Shakespeare meant, specifically because there’s so much Shakespeare that goes on everywhere, for good reason. But there’s this original practices, and what he meant at the time and that we need to stick to that, even though for me, I find sometimes reading it, that to my eye, and ear, and everyone thousands and hundreds of years later on, it reads totally different, and could read totally different if we embraced it. But I feel we just keep getting pulled back into “but that’s not what he meant”. And maybe it would be a lot more relevant- dare I say?- if we embrace that it could potentially mean something totally different now, that poetry, when spoken through a completely different conduit, might affect you differently.

The one play I can think of where that’s really happened- that it’s been really reinterpreted by history- is The Merchant of Venice. It was originally considered a comedy and the forced conversion at the end was folded into a “happy ending” but nowadays it’s almost always played (at least in part) as a tragedy because we as a society have a more developed understanding of how horrific that is. I think that idea of re-contextualizing or even redefining tone needs to be embraced a bit more, and it has been done.
Absolutely. And I feel that we also need to embrace the fact that yes, it’s a comedy, but things can be one thing, and something else at the same time. And that’s something that I love and strive to bring in everything that I do, that two sides. So maybe if we stop looking at it being like “well, All’s Well that Ends Well is a romantic whatever”, but there’s elements of it that aren’t, that are real; why does it have to be just the one thing that we’re striving for all the time, that that’s what people want to sit down and see? Why can’t it be all over the fucking map and see what happens?”

I did a production of Merchant of Venice where that last act was all over the place, and it was a romantic comedy from the fifties, like a Hepburn thing where it was all “well you this and that, and cheated on me,” and it was huge and bombastic and funny and romantic. And then at the end we actually showed Shylock having his conversion to Catholicism, and it was incredibly dark. People hated it. They had huge reactions to it because it was like “ha ha ha ha – BOOM.” You were just laughing, but you completely forgot what happens to this person. And I completely agree with you. It’s happening slowly. I like to hope that it’s happening. I always feel like, come on, it’s 2017, and I don’t know what it is that’s holding us back from that. I don’t know if it’s because ticket prices are too expensive, so we can’t afford them, so the people that are going want to see the same thing. And God only knows what the next generation of theatre-goers would want, because they can’t afford it.

I think that’s exactly it, that the indie theatres that tend to be a little more adventurous and run by younger (and thus generally more liberal/socially conscious) people who are more willing to take risks like that – not only do they draw small crowds, but they draw the same crowd over and over and over again, so they very much are preaching to the choir. Whereas the aging subscriber bases give the larger theatres incentive to program too conservatively because the young people who would demand change can’t afford to attend. 
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in the theatre and looked around, and everyone’s about 40 years older than me, or more. And they’re falling asleep, or they’re going to the theatre because they feel like it’s something they’re supposed to do. Some of the most profound experiences that I’ve had since moving to Toronto and going to the theatre have been in a black box with 20 other people, with these indie artists that are taking risks in their own lives. They’re financially taking hits and fucking being poor doing this stuff, but it fucking shakes your ribs, and that’s why we go, it’s the most immediate art form that can affect you that’s out there.

To go back to Changeling, what were you hoping the audience would take away from the show?
I think what I was really hoping the audience would take from the show is seeing Beatrice-Joanna as an actual person, and not a Jacobean trope. Not seeing her as the dishonest virgin who disobeyed her dad, regardless of how you felt of her treatment after. I really wanted her to be a person. A fallible, at times goofy, incredibly passionate, vulnerable, dumb, devious, intelligent, horrifying human. And then from the overall play, people laughing and gasping. Because that’s what I love. On your toes. I wanted them to take from it not knowing what was gonna happen, and not being able to catch their breath. That’s what I wanted.

And you mentioned Old Times before. That was a great production. What stands out to you about that experience?
Definitely the scourge of what’s happening with indie theatres right now, losing the space [Ed. Note: rehearsals were already underway for Old Times when Unit 102’s theatre space was sold to a developer and they had to find a new venue at the last minute, ending up in an obscure, hard-to-find/promote location]. It’s a huge issue. I mean, do you want to talk about breaking your heart? Putting yourself out there onstage and there’s barely more people in the audience than there is on the stage acting. That one was really rough.

In terms of working on it, though, I love Pinter. I don’t think he’s done as often as he should be, and I think he’s done in a really specific, dry way where it’s like what we were talking about before, handling something with kid gloves, and God forbid you have a new spin on it, or somewhere else you want to take it and go with it. I’ve been wanting to play a mute for a really long time, or someone who can’t communicate, so Kate really drew me, because she does it so much. Up until the end, that seems to come out of nowhere, and then there’s no resolution, so it was a wonderful exercise in the amount of energy to be that live with everything going on so that when people look at you, you’re somewhere, or trying to draw attention from not saying anything at all.

But it was hard, having them lose their space, and then Storefront lost their space. I do think something that indie theatres need is a beacon, is a place for people to find you. It’s one thing if you’re constantly putting out great work, but where are you? And that’s definitely something that the bigger, more established theatres have. When I talk to people about plays, when you’re just running into regular people, it’s like “where is that? Is that over there at the CanStage park, wherever?” and you’re like “no, it’s here, it’s here, it’s here, it’s here.” Having somewhere for people to be able to find you, I feel like, is half the battle. For [audiences] to continuously be able to come back. 

What are you doing now / what’s your next project?
Ooh, good question. What am I doing now? Right now I’m waiting to hear back from some things, but they always say the best thing to do is forget that they ever happened. So right now I’m actually focusing on my visual art. Which is kinda cool, and doesn’t have the same strings attached to it that the acting does, which is very freeing and awesome and really good for my soul. I’m hoping that I’ve got some more theatre in the works. We’ll see what happens. I don’t really know what’s coming down the pipeline, but right now I’m just happy. I don’t feel that uncertainty thing, like God knows it’ll come back, as it’s an up-and-down wave, but I feel good lately, just not treading water, but floating on my back. It’s peaceful. So I have no idea what’s going to come up, but I’m okay with it.

Is there anything you’d like to add?
Just thank you again for shining a light on so much work that doesn’t get seen, on so many geniuses that one night are dazzling you and the next they are serving you coffee or taking your order [Ed. Note: that’s a reference to something I said off the record about encountering indie artists I admire out working their joe jobs]. And how hard it is, because it’s a lot – we all have family behind us that love us and keep hoping that things are gonna turn around in this fairytale way, but it’s a rough gig. It’s a hard gig. But it’s so fucking fulfilling, and it’s so amazing, and it’s so wonderful. I can’t thank you enough for that, because without that- there’s nothing else.

And to all the incredibly luminous women that I’ve been nominated with, as well- for recognizing how fucking beautiful and incredibly talented they are. I’m very humbled to be in their company, because it just makes me feel sparkly.

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